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THE Bahamas National Trust (BNT), Ministry of Tourism, Inter-American Development Bank and the National Audubon Society (NAS) hosted a development workshop this week on bird-based tourism as the project to introduce a sustainable national nature tourism product gathers pace.
"You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists."
- Abbie Hoffman
This week, we witnessed the commencement of the debate on gambling legislation in Parliament which sought, among other things, to regularize the operation of web shops in The Bahamas. Much of the intense antagonism to the legislation resulted from the outcome of the January 28, 2013 gambling referendum during which the vote in opposition to the proposition of regulating and taxing the web shops prevailed.
Prior to the referendum, the prime minister proclaimed that he would abide by the referendum results. Subsequently, however, he changed his mind, and, notwithstanding the referendum results, introduced legislation that would regulate and tax web shops. Accordingly this week, we would like to Consider this...Are some of the religious pastors who fought and won the referendum poll correct in their accusation that the prime minister's positional reversal and subsequent actions have signaled the death of democracy in The Bahamas?
The state of play
For decades, Bahamians were not allowed to gamble in the country's casinos, although foreigners were not only permitted, but encouraged to do so. Casino gambling in The Bahamas has grown impressively, and tourist gaming has become ensconced in our tourism industry. However, since the enactment of the relevant legislation, Bahamians were prohibited from participating.
During this same period, and for many decades before, Bahamians have actively engaged in the domestic numbers business, paying small amounts of money to bet that the numbers that they chose would "fall" on any given day, resulting in profits far in excess of the cost of the purchase of such numbers. At one point, depending on the gaming house in which one played, a $2 bet could result in winnings of as much as $900, and in some cases slightly more if the number fell in the precise sequence of the daily drawings.
Such games of chance were never legally sanctioned, but for decades the vast majority of Bahamians turned a blind eye to such betting arrangements by local residents. The society as a whole acquiesced to such practices; law enforcement, and civil society, including the church, generally accepted that playing numbers was as much a part of the Bahamian culture as is Junkanoo.
In 2010, when the Ingraham administration decided to regulate the web shops, government representatives met with web shop owners and determined that the annual revenue from this sector was estimated to be in the range of $400 to $600 million. At the time, the Free National Movement (FNM) government realized that it could not allow the industry to continue to operate in an unregulated environment and drafted regulations for it. The FNM did not proceed with its plans to regulate this sector, in part because, at that time, it could not obtain the support of the church.
The 2013 referendum
Shortly after the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won the general elections on May 7, 2012, Prime Minister Christie aggressively initiated plans to regularize the web shops. Pursuant to that objective, Prime Minister Christie announced that his government would hold a referendum on January 28, 2013 to determine the will of the people on the matter. The two questions on the referendum ballot sought the people's views on regulating and taxing the web shops and the establishment of a national lottery. The referendum results follow:
o The total number of votes cast against regulating and taxing web shops was 51,146, 62 percent of the total;
o The total number of votes cast in favor of regularization was 31,657, 38 percent of the total.
Many people believe that, although a majority of Bahamians who voted in last year's referendum were against the web shops, the outcome is neither persuasive nor conclusive and that the referendum results do not represent the true national sentiment on this issue.
Particularly in light of the low voter turnout of less than 50 percent of eligible voters, it would be erroneous to conclude that a majority of Bahamians are opposed to regulating and taxing web shops or establishing a national lottery.
The regulation imperative
The government recently reported that web shops cumulatively generate gross annual revenue of $600 million. Given this enormously significant cash flow, it is imperative that they be regulated for two important reasons: consumer protection and national security imperatives.
In the absence of completely shutting down the web shops, perhaps an impossibly achievable objective, the government must have also considered the vastly deleterious effects that either shutting them down or allowing them to continue to operate in an unregulated environment would have on our economy. But doing nothing is a wholly untenable proposition.
If we examine the operations of web shops, we will observe that their owners operate two distinctively different businesses. First, they provide online gaming for their customers. From a consumer protection perspective, it is important for persons who participate in web shop activities to be confident that they are protected from undesirable business practices ranging from online machine manipulation to not being able to collect their winnings if they are successful players. Today, in the absence of regulation, the smooth, fair and equitable operation of web shops is wholly based on trust. Regulation will address those and other operational issues.
The second business in which web shops engage comes as close to banking as anything will, without the requirement or benefit of a banking license. There are possibly more automatic teller machines strewn across the length and breadth of this country that are operated by the web shops owners than those of all the commercial banks combined.
Furthermore, the owners of web shops engage in lending money to many Bahamians for similar purposes as our commercial banks. However, in the case of web shops, this is an unregulated activity.
Additionally, we cannot ignore the short and long-term devastating effects on this economy of the nearly 4,000 persons who are employed by the web shops and what their closure would mean to the nation's employment figures.
Finally, it was absolutely necessary to bring this industry into the formal economy, enabling it to be recognized as a legitimate and significant pillar of the Bahamian economy.
Having regard to all of the above, the government is cognizant that regulation of the industry is imperative in order to protect the country from once again being blacklisted by the international agencies of the large industrialized countries, because of the potential threat that an unregulated sector poses for money laundering and terrorist financing, all of which will be minimized through the regulation of the sector.
Accordingly, there cannot be any doubt whatsoever that regulation and taxation of this sector is in the best interests of the country.
The gaming legislation
The gaming legislation that was recently tabled in Parliament, among other things, contains three major provisions that have resulted in varying degrees of intense debate in the public square. Those elements of the bill provide:
That all web shops would be regulated and taxed;
That a national lottery could be established for at some future date to be determined by the government;
That Bahamians would be allowed to gamble in casinos at some future date to be determined by the government.
The government should be commended for its leadership in this matter. Christie has debunked his detractors' derogatory suggestions that he is indecisive and ineffective. He and his Cabinet have taken the bold decision to do the right thing for the economy and the country in the face of excessive opposition and criticism for taking a decision that is incongruent with the expressed will of the people who voiced their views during the last referendum.
Next week we will address those who criticize the government for taking this bold decision in the face of those results, including the official opposition and some church pastors, with a view to determining whether, in light of the prime minister's courageous leadership in this matter, we are witnessing the death of democracy in our country.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic and Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By STAFF REPORTER
Guardian News Desk
Bahamas National Trust(BNT)officials revealed that their most recently launched park was vandalized sometime this week after suspects used park signs for target practice,The Nassau Guardianhas learned.
BNT officials said the matter has been turned over to police, who are now treating it as a criminal investigation.
Senior Park Warden for the Bonefish Pond National Park Rudolph Burrows said park signs were vandalized twice this week.
Burrows added that he made the initial discovery on Monday.
"Somebody just didnt have anything to do and on Monday the sign was shot with what appeared to be shotgun pellets so I took it down, got it fixed and on Wednesday ...
The recent New Providence landfill fire due to poor management of the area harmed the health of nearby residents. The prevalence of spills, leaks, fires or other incidents across the archipelago warrant immediate attention by government to implement regulations and enforce accountability. And the government especially should seek to live up to the standards set out in law.
Since the Environmental Health Services Act was enacted in 1987 few of the recommended regulations have been properly implemented, much to the detriment of the Bahamian people. Regulations for the collection and disposal of waste only came to fruition in 2004. In fact, the act explicitly recommends measures for the prevention and control of pollution of the air, contaminated land and water. While we can praise such forethought, successive efforts to enact final environmental legislation continue to fail.
The Planning and Subdivision Act 2010 may be considered a small victory for the natural environment with its attempt to promote sustainable development through planning policy. On the positive side, it briefly outlines the requisites for an environmental impact assessment or statement, but it hardly satisfies the need for more stringent controls to prevent and hold accountable the release of harmful substances into the environment. Surprisingly, the Department of Environmental Health Services does support an Environmental Monitoring and Risk Assessment Division; yet its absence from public discourse provides little assurance.
The Bahamian people are justified in their outcry over the lingering dump fires. The government's request for nearby residents to keep doors and windows closed is not a long-term solution. Even more so, the public ought to know the extent of adverse impairment to ambient air quality. We would be naive to assume that all garbage in the New Providence landfill is adequately sorted, eliminating the presence of potentially hazardous substances.
But dangers to human health and the environment also lurk within the land. Contamination of land, particularly below the surface, is difficult to detect and when discovered it is prohibitively expensive to remediate. Earlier this year, an underground gasoline leak was discovered at a Robinson Road gas station. Residents with water wells were right to voice concern over the lack of information provided about the leak. The Ministry of the Environment and Housing engaged a Canadian firm, SENES Consultants Limited, to investigate and submit a report to the government, a report not likely to be disclosed to the public.
Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett, in response to the gas station leak, noted that the government is looking to impose stiffer penalties for environment-based offenses. Such a practice may enhance vigilance and hold accountable private businesses, but what about the potential adverse impacts from government-owned entities such as BEC and the landfills? BEC admits lagging behind on maintenance and using Bunker C, a known dirty fuel. Can the government assure residents that smoke stack emissions meet international air quality standards? What about car and bus emissions, or even cruise ship emissions while they are downtown?
As an active participant in numerous United Nations environmental conventions, The Bahamas cannot feign ignorance over the cumulative hazards to human health and the environment. The expansion of environmental education through community programs by the Bahamas National Trust and Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation is building awareness. Exerting greater control over the accountability for harmful releases into the environment would surely benefit the Bahamian people. International standards from recognized entities such as ASTM International exist to identify recognized environmental conditions and determine steps for containment and removal.
Bahamians should expect more from their government regarding the safeguard of human health and the environment. The government has the blueprint and the knowledge, it simply needs greater pressure from the people to act.
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Young real estate superstar Ryan Knowles has been awarded the prestigious Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist designation, catapulting the 24-year-old into the top tier of real estate agents. The international certification places Knowles, an agent with Mario Carey Realty, among fewer than 1% of all licensed agents in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Four-year-old fine art photographer Joshua Marshall just hit newsstands in the Winter 2013 edition of Profiles 98 magazine.
Joshua is featured as a contributing photographer. His work shows artists participating in "Kingdom Come", the 6th National Exhibition (NE6) of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB).
Joshua's mother Candis Marshall, who was featured in the exhibition, recalled Joshua's fascination with many of the pieces, particularly the installations and how they came together.
Joshua's development in photography stemmed from a therapy his mother used when he was two years old.
As a toddler, he had been a brain box with very wide interests but he was also diagnosed with epilepsy.
Joshua experienced a major seizure that affected his speech and coordination and his ability to communicate. Though his mind was still processing at the same rate, he could not convey his thoughts and needs the way he had become accustomed.
It was through photography that Candis found a way for her son to communicate.
With his camera, Joshua began taking photographs of what he wanted to say and after a while, learned how to explain the photograph and what he wanted to convey.
This was just the beginning of an amazing journey that led to Joshua being noticed by artist Antonius Roberts and the editor of Profiles 98 magazine.
"The editor of Profiles 98, Tercena Carey, has an unquenchable desire to ensure that every Bahamian artist or designer that is willing to hone their craft and is committed to truly representing The Bahamas globally gets an opportunity to do just that with some of the world's most well known individuals and entities as their captive audience," Candis said.
"She has had many opportunities to meet with Joshua and view his work privately and at our recent exhibition (at Hillside House in January). She was so impressed with his ability, mostly because of his age but also because of his eye for detail. [So] she decided to give him a chance to showcase his work in the Winter 2013 issue of Profiles 98."
Profiles 98 is distributed throughout The Bahamas as well as in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Guyana, Antigua, Bermuda and Haiti. It also distributed at fashion events (most recently at New York Fashion Week), spas and hotels in the Caribbean and the U.S.
So far, Joshua's work has been featured at the Bahamas National Trust Art and Wine Festival and Antonius Roberts' Studio and Gallery at Hillside House, in addition to the magazine.
He has also sold three posters and three original fine art prints - two of which are on display at AFS Insurance Brokers, Carmichael Road.
His mother is currently writing a book about him called "I Am Peter Parker", stemming from Joshua's fascination with Spiderman's alias, Peter Parker, the photographer with superhuman abilities.
FREEPORT, Grand Bahama -- With their opening night at the Glory Banks Art Gallery a smash hit, kudos goes to the energetic team that put FOR THE LOVE OF ART Exhibition together, to the artists who had art in their hearts in preparing their artistic works, and to the faithful art patrons who attended opening night to support them.
Thursday, February 7th, gave the opportunity for the Grand Bahama community to mix and mingle with the members of the Grand Bahama Artists Association (GBAA) to experience the rich art culture available on the island and to feel the artistic buzz that is happening on the island.
Local and international artists, many whose names and works are known to the community, along with several newcomers brought their unique perspective to art in eclectic artistry of oil, wood, fiber, watercolours, Indian ink, handmade paper, beads and sequins ... greatly expanding the visual arts on Grand Bahama.
The evening gave art lovers an occasion not only to view the extensive selection of art pieces but also to purchase many of them. However, if anyone missed opening night, for the month of February, in the garden atmosphere of the Bahamas National Trust in Freeport, the array of artistic renderings of faces, flowers, fanciful abstractions, landscapes, wood carvings, portraits and seascapes, will continue until February 28th ... all for the love of art.
Developers vie for oceanfront acreage with soft sandy beaches emerging out of turquoise waters - the quintessential image of island life. Luckily with our 700 islands we have an abundant supply of unspoiled coastline, or do we?
The announcement that acreage was for sale surrounding Dean's Blue Hole generated angst among Bahamians, and rightly so. It is almost unfathomable that a national treasure like Dean's Blue Hole could be jeopardized by neighboring development pressures. But we cannot hold the developer responsible for lands that it legally owns. It is the duty of the government to assess and then recognize areas of natural and historic significance. The developer cannot be the scapegoat for the government's lack of foresight to preserve these places. We must be proactive in our preservation efforts. Our wait and see attitude will yield only regret.
Crown land provides the government with a tool for negotiation. Yet, too often the enticement of foreign direct investment supersedes the inherent value of Crown land to Bahamians. Crown land has become a pawn in the game of development. How can we possibly allow Crown land to be leased for a mere $1 per year?
On Monday, The Nassau Guardian reported that a golf course and resort is proposed for a 600-acre site located on a peninsula known as the glass window. Obviously, the natural break in the landmass of Eleuthera known as the glass window, where the Atlantic meets the Great Bahama Bank, cannot be developed. But what about the Queen's Pools located approximately one kilometer south?
Negotiations between the government and developers are clouded in secrecy and more often than not are subject to the conditions of a non-disclosure agreement. Such agreements leave the Bahamian public essentially clueless until a press release is distributed after the project is signed. The wanton disregard for adequate beach access and public parks in New Providence produces scant confidence that the Family Islands will endure a different fate.
This government has an opportunity to identify lands of immense national importance before it cowers to development pressures. The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) oversees 27 national parks with over one million acres of the sea and land protected. A remarkable feat for a small island nation, but we can do more.
Why is Dean's Blue Hole not listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site? What about the blue holes and cave systems discovered in Abaco and highlighted in National Geographic? We boast about the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP) established in 1958, yet its inability to regulate and zone buildings on privately owned cays makes it not so much a park but a highly sought after real estate refuge. We should be proud of the ECLSP. It was a revolutionary concept at the time. Yet, it is also an example of the need to proactively preserve lands and establish land zoning before development pressures are too great.
Fortunately, a new generation of Bahamians is learning about the crucial application of resource management and integrated land use. Next week on Tuesday, February 19, The College of The Bahamas (COB) in conjunction with BNT and Harvard University will host a free symposium: Sustainable Exuma. Then, in early March, COB and the BNT will host a natural history conference showcasing the high level of scientific research ongoing in The Bahamas.
Presently, The Bahamas has the opportunity to identify and then to set aside lands of immense cultural and natural importance. Development is vital to moving the country forward but it should not be to the detriment of our heritage and the future enjoyment of our national treasures.
THE Bahamas National Trust (BNT) is working with the San Salvador Living Jewels Foundation, a local conservation organisation, to expand the national parks system to include five areas in the island: Southern Great Lake, Pigeon Creek and Snow Bay, Grahams Harbour, West Coast Dive Sites and Green's Bay.
This column was originally published on February 9, 2010
Andros Island, the fifth largest island in the Caribbean, and larger than many CARICOM countries, is big and long. It boasts one of the largest national parks in the region, one of the world’s largest barrier reefs and a magnificent Tongue of the Ocean with a 6,000 foot drop-off.
From the Bahamas National Trust: “As one of the least populated regions in the Caribbean Basin, Andros Island and its myriad of tidal creeks, interconnected lakes, mud flats and mangroves support some of the largest populations of underwater life in the region.”
Both the Central Andros National Park and the west side of Andros are areas of ...